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Uncertain fate of newly designated education varsities

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
27 May 2015   |   11:07 pm
• Upgrade must be product of painstaking, diligent process, says Okebukola • Education varsities, no cure-all drug for teaching malaise, says Johnson THE era of President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration comes to an end tomorrow. But with barely two weeks to go, a flurry of activities happened in the education sector, principal among which were the…
Minister Of Education, Shekarau

Minister Of Education, Shekarau

• Upgrade must be product of painstaking, diligent process, says Okebukola
• Education varsities, no cure-all drug for teaching malaise, says Johnson

THE era of President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration comes to an end tomorrow. But with barely two weeks to go, a flurry of activities happened in the education sector, principal among which were the presentation of operational licences to four new private polytechnics and 34 innovation enterprise institutions (IEIS. The new polytechnics are Nacabs Polytechnic, Akwanga, Nasarawa State; Uyo City Polytechnic, Akwa Ibom State; the Polytechnic Igbo-Owu, Kwara State and Balmor Polytechnic, Ibadan, Oyo State.

Few days after that exercise, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided over by Jonathan approved the conversion of five tertiary institutions to universities, four of them being old colleges of education now designated universities of education.

While briefing the media, Education Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Shekarau, listed the colleges as Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo State now to be known as Adeyemi University of Education; Federal College of Education, Zaria changed to Federal University of Education; Federal College of Education, Kano is now Federal University of Education, Kano while Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri has been approved as Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri.

The fifth institution, the Medical Health Sciences College in Otukpo, Benue State now becomes the Federal University of Health Sciences.

Across the federation, the Federal Government’s decision elicited diverse reactions from stakeholders and members of the public alike.

For instance, while some see the upgrade as something akin to a cure-all tablet for the malaise rocking the teaching profession in the country, others simply believe that it would, to a reasonable extent, deliver prepared and qualified teacher for an Information Communication Technology (ICT)-driven world, which of the 21st Century represents.

Yet, another school of thought is of the opinion that creating new universities on the eve of the departure of the Jonathan administration, when the 12 others created by the same administration were yet to be adequately funded, flies in the face of sound reasoning.

All these not withstanding, jubilation broke out in the affected colleges as the news filtered in. For instance, at Alvan Ikoku College, Owerri, staff and students celebrated the upgrade with gusto.

In the early part of Thursday, a day after the announcement was made, academic activities at the school grinded to a halt albeit temporarily as jubilant students rolled out the drums and gyrated round the campus. They were in good company as some management staff, led by the provost, Dr. Blessing Ijioma, joined them.

The jubilant workers commended Jonathan, Shekarau, Minister of State for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri and other stakeholders including Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu for working assiduously towards the realisation of their agitation.

Established in 1963 as the Advance Teachers Training College (ATTC), the school has been awarding degrees in affiliation with the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) since 1981.
Since its establishment, it has undergone series of changes before it was eventually taken over by the Federal Government in 2007.

The college with technical assistance from UNESCO, was charged with the responsibility of producing teachers of intermediate manpower, in line with the Ashby report on Higher Education in Nigeria.

In 1973, via Edict No. 11 promulgated by the Administrator of East-Central State of Nigeria, Ukpabi Asika, the teacher training college became a college of education and was named after Mr. Alvan Ikoku, a teacher and educationist, and founder of the first African-owned secondary school in Nigeria -Aggrey Memorial Grammar School. He was also president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) for many years.

“In the last 25 years, we desired autonomy to be a degree awarding institution. We have been doing it in affiliation with University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). But now, we can stand on our own. It is indeed a dream come true.”

The institution was one of the five that were initially penciled for upgrade to degree-awarding institutions.

The others were Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Lagos, Federal College of Education, Kano; Federal College of Education, Zaria; Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri; Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna.

In August 2010, erstwhile Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, while speaking at YABATECH during the distribution of science kits to junior secondary schools had informed that modalities for the upgrade were being worked out, adding that a committee has been set up to resolve issues that would arise.

According to her, some of these issues include converting the qualification of the national and Higher National Diploma to Bachelor of Technology (B.TECH), reconciling the profiles of academic staff and upgrading the curriculum.

She went on to inform that with these issues resolved, the matter would be tabled before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval.

Until Rafa’i was removed from office a couple of years ago, the matter remained only as recommendation of the Implementation Committee on Guidelines for Degree Awarding for Colleges of Education and Polytechnics. The report was submitted on July 20, 2010.

When the FEC eventually gave the nod last Wednesday, YABATECH, Kaduna Polytechnic and Federal College of Education, Zaria, were missing from the schools that were hitherto shortlisted for upgrading.

Since the upgrade was announced, however, a legion of issues including those bordering on conversion of the national and Higher National Diploma to Bachelor of Technology (B.TECH), infrastructures, staffing, specifically reconciling the profiles of academic staff, upgrading the curriculum as well as the status of provosts of the institutions have been making the rounds.

In providing answers to these posers, Special Adviser (Media) to Shekarau, Dr. Nnamdi Olebara, said the Federal Government has approved the sum of N500m for each of the four institutions as administrative and running costs.

According to Olebara, Sheakrau who made the announcement when he met with provosts and governing councils of the new universities in Abuja, assured them that they would be retained.

He said the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) had been directed to disburse the approved sum to each of the institutions.

“The old laws establishing the colleges of education will be repealed in due course and the appropriate legislatures will regularise the universities of education,” the minister’s aide said.

He added that the ministry strove to get the FEC to approve the upgrade because of the need to promote teacher education, just as he expressed optimism that the upgrade would attract more Nigerians into the teaching profession with a view to producing first-class brains as teachers.

“The National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) will supervise the transition of these institutions to their new status. Government will appoint chancellors and vice chancellors for the new institutions.

He continued, “The provosts will become the deputy vice chancellors in the interim, as the Federal Government has directed that no vice chancellor will serve in his or her zone of origin.”

The Federal Government’s decision not to appoint incumbent provosts as pioneer vice chancellors of the universities of education appears not to be in sync with the desires of the Non- Academic Staff Union (NASU) and students of Federal College of Education, Kaduna.

The students and NASU in separate media briefing on Monday urged government to elevate incumbent provosts of the colleges to vice chancellors in the affected schools.

According to the NASU branch chairman, Alhaji Lawal Mohammed-Sani and that of Students Representative Council, Hassan Bello, doing so would allow the provosts to set the universities on a sound footing.

They said as specialised universities, it was imperative that only people with good understanding of the workings of the teacher education system be allowed to oversee them.

They, therefore, advised government against appointing people without knowledge and experience in teacher education and management to head the universities, adding that incumbent provosts possessed the operational knowledge of the institutions, and would strive to set new standards in line with the status of the universities.

But while NASU and students of one of the benefitting institutions want the provosts to metamorphose into vice chancellors, erudite scholar and immediate past executive secretary of the NUC, Prof Peter Okebukola sees the opportunity to upgrade as a “golden opportunity to straighten the crooked graduate teacher education system in Nigeria.

“It was a delight to learn on Wednesday last week that four new federal universities of education have been created from four of the older colleges of education. There was a sneer in the air by many members of the public wondering why the Jonathan administration was in a rush to do several things it failed to do in six years, perhaps eight years. Some in the university system who had angst about what they described as too many universities being approved and established by the Jonathan administration without adherence to standard norms, were alarmed that new universities were being created on the eve of the departure of the administration.

“I do not abhor any new university being established since I am aware of the rigour and thoroughness with which the National Universities Commission (NUC), goes about the business of screening and processing applications for new private universities. I cannot say the same for new federal universities established in the last four years, which no doubt, smacks of political colour and the zest to win votes from communities, where the universities are sited.”

Okebukola expressed pleasure at the birth of the new federal education varsities even as he noted that his delight stems from three fronts viz: “They are not emerging from virgin territories, but are sprouting from the roots of well-established colleges of education.

“Second, the four new universities have been running degree programmes in education for years in affiliation with older universities. Third, major challenges faced by faculties of education in existing universities, with regard to cooperation from the faculties where education students take courses in their teaching subjects will be dismantled by having all courses taken under one roof of a university of education.

While cautioning against any hurried appointment of governing councils for these schools in a bid to satisfy cronies, the former NUC chieftain expressed fears that the N500m administrative and running costs promised the schools “will hang in the air just like the N1.5 billion promised the 12 federal universities established about three years ago.

“If the Buhari administration is not to overturn this laudable move, I propose a 6-step action, that would also address how we can take advantage of this opportunity to improve graduate teacher education. Before the sixth step is undertaken (which I envisage will last about a year or two), I propose that the colleges remain as they are, fulfilling their vision and mission as provided in their laws,” he stated.

He proposed that the “NUC should conduct an extensive audit of the curricula and programme delivery mechanisms in the four colleges. The NUC national survey of 2004 and several recent studies by the Okebukola-led national research group have confirmed the extremely shallow content knowledge of graduates from our teacher preparation system. Teachers and even their trainers lack basic skills to deliver quality education in an ICT-driven world of the 21st century.

“The second step is for NUC to convene a national stakeholder summit of teacher educators to draft a unique curriculum drawing good practices from other countries notably Finland and the United States for the new universities to be applied in all graduate teacher preparation programmes in the country. This curriculum should reduce the load for education courses, significantly hike the load on the courses in the teaching subjects and shun early specialisation in such areas as education management, guidance, counselling, adult education and others that should mainly be taken at the postgraduate level. The emerging curriculum will need to be subjected to the NUC approval process.”

Okebukola said, “The third step is the development of academic briefs for the new institutions and physical master plan as a modification or upgrade of the existing master plan of the colleges. Step four is for the NUC to conduct a diligent staff audit to match the minimum standards of staff in the colleges with those required to effectively deliver the new curriculum. This gap analysis will then set the stage for step five, which is advertisement of staff at all levels from the vice-chancellor to the most junior staff. During the course of steps 1 to 4, the process leading to the enactment of enabling laws for the institutions will be initiated and concluded so that councils can be in place to appoint staff, including the vice-chancellor.
Step five should be concluded with rigorous interviews (including written examinations and ICT tests) to select the very best from within and outside the Nigerian university system. Appointments should be based strictly on merit and not on a factor of “son of the soil”.

The last step, he said should be massive advocacy for improvement in the conditions of service of graduate teachers, who will be products of the new curriculum and a re-branding of teacher education to attract more candidates for the profession.

After these steps, he said, “the colleges can then effectively open their doors as true universities of education. It needs to be cautioned that in the matter of reformatting teacher education in Nigeria through these new universities of education, the long route will be the better way to go rather than the short cut being planned by government, which has high chance of crashing.”

Professor of Theatre and Media Studies, at the University of Uyo, Effiong Etim Johnson, cautioned against great expectations from all that the upgrade of these four institutions constitute a radical cure to teaching, and by extension, educational problems plaquing the country.

According to him, “Before the change of nomenclature by the Federal Government, three of those institutions where already degree-awarding and the NUC had assessed them to ensure that they have the capacity and the right personnel to award degrees. So, to me, the name change is just to formalise their status and not necessarily to bring about rapid changes in the teaching profession because teachers are not only being produced by these three schools.

“Having said that, it should be stated that there are several factors that are responsible for bringing about the desired change in our educational system. Personnel, that are the teaching staff constitute just one of the factors. Facilities, quality of teachers and change of mentality are part of it as well,” Johnson maintained.

The university teacher said, “In addition to this, it should be noted that majority of the teachers are produced by colleges of education and I have my reservations about the standard of these colleges, as well as the assessment carried out on them before they graduate.

He pointed out that, “We have not really spent time to assess the deliverability of teachers in the classroom,” stressing, “one can flaunt a qualifying certificate, but having the ability to deliver is a completely different thing. So, I am of the opinion that a forum should be created to assess the ability of teachers to deliver on their subject matter. There should also be a system that checks whether syllabi have been followed and concluded before examinations are conducted.

“It is also very important to ensure that the students have the right environment for meaningful learning to take place because it is a serious disincentive when an environment does not enhance learning.”

On the appointment of vice chancellors for the new universities, he opined that the issue should be thrown open so that provosts of the colleges can also apply and have the opportunity to serve in the in that capacity. “Now that the schools are universities, they would witness increase in students, which will also lead to increase in classrooms, laboratories and general facilities. Having said that, it is very important for the schools to enjoy improved funding.”